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Posted by on Apr 18, 2014 in Business, Culture, Featured, Future of Leadership, Inspirational, Leadership | 2 comments

Survival of the Smallest: The Evolution of Our Global Workforce


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‘We can allow satellites, planets, suns, universe, nay whole systems of universes, to be governed by laws, but the smallest insect, we wish to be created at once by special act.’ – Charles Darwin

Those working in business, steeped in the depths of economics and the logic born by Adam Smith, like to think that we look at the world through more enlightened eyes. We see invisible chains of cause and effect all around us, built on supply and demand.

But there are hidden hands suggested by other fields of study, like the theory of evolution.

Business as Ecosystem

The theory of evolution, as described by Darwin, was all about the way that life develops on Earth. But the same principles can be applied when looking at other complex entities. It’s a model of growth and change, and if economic thinking can be applied to social problems, as in Levitt and Dubner’s Freakonomics, then is there any reason other models can’t be applied in the economic sphere?

Darwin’s hidden hand was one of growth and change, of complex entities being shaped by their environment, shaping it back, and eventually succumbing as others surpassed them. Different species evolve within an ecosystem, filling the available niches. Types develop to fill the space, and as that space changes some of them die off while others thrive.

Isn’t the same thing true in an economy, just at a far faster pace? Instead of animals and plants made up of individual cells we have businesses made up of individual employees. Two thousand years ago businesses were all much the same, small groups or individuals crafting and selling their wares. We’ve evolved through the rise of guilds and merchant houses, then their replacement by corporations, and along the way a much more diverse system has developed. Everything from the sole trader selling crafts on eBay to the corporate giants of Wall Street, all in one ecosystem.

Instead of animals and plants made up of individual cells we have businesses made up of individual employees. We’ve evolved through the rise of guilds and merchant houses, then their replacement by corporations, and along the way a much more diverse system has developed.

Predators and Prey

If we think of businesses as comparable with animals in an ecosystem then we can also see a split analogous to that between herbivores and carnivores.

The herbivores of business feed themselves from outside the business sector. If they grow it is by serving more customers. Their food is consumer need, and they evolve to fit around it.

Others are like carnivores, preying on the other animals. They feed from within the business sector, serving its needs. They expand by feeding on the animals that grow around them. Investment funds, consultancies and businesses built on aggressive takeovers, their niche might seem like a more exalted one, higher up the food chain, but it may also be more vulnerable.

If we think of businesses as comparable with animals in an ecosystem then we can also see a split analogous to that between herbivores and carnivores.

Survival of the Smallest?

The life forms that survive best aren’t the big complex ones. They’re the small ones with simple needs at the bottom of the chain, the microbes and the cockroaches. Larger beasts have more complex needs. They are more likely to over-feed, to break their own ecosystem and starve.

Are we starting to see the equivalent with the corporate giants? As they devour the mid-size businesses they feed on, as their diet becomes more and more distant from the green grass of consumer needs, are they preparing themselves for extinction?

Only time will tell. But it’s the small businesses, the sole traders, the lone craftsman, the builders, cleaners and caretakers whose roles have survived the centuries, and who will still be standing long after the corporate carnivores are gone.

The evolution of economies can teach us many things. Survival of the smallest is just the start.

 

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Image credit: mihalec / 123RF Stock Photo

 

Mark Lukens

Mark Lukens

Mark Lukens is a Founding Partner of Method3, a global management consulting firm. He has 20 plus years of C-Level experience across multiple sectors including healthcare, education, government, and people and potential (aka HR). In addition, Mark currently serves as Chairman of the Board for Behavioral Health Service North, a large behavioral health services provider in New York. He also actively serves on the faculty of the State University of New York (SUNY) and teaches in the School of Business and Economics; Department of Marketing and Entrepreneurship and the Department of Management, International Business and Information Systems. Mark holds an MBA and is highly recognized in the technology and healthcare space with credentials including MCSE and Paramedic. Most of Mark’s writing involves theoretical considerations and practical application, academics, change leadership, and other topics at the intersection of business, society, and humanity. Mark resides in New York with his wife Lynn, two children, and two Labradors. The greatest pursuit; “To be more in the Service of Others.”

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  • http://www.savvycapitalist.blogspot.com TedCoine

    Mark, I absolutely love it! I feel like you must’ve read chapter 7 in our manuscript for “A World Gone Social: How Companies Must Adapt to Survive.” That chapter is all about the unfolding extinction (or evolution – their choice) of large companies. I’m delighted because, as you haven’t read it, today’s post is validation for that premise – validation from a source that Mark Babbitt and I respect deeply.

    In other words, thank you! Another terrific post from an amazing thought leader. We’re proud to feature your work here on Switch and Shift.

    • mlukens

      Ted, Thank you for the kind words. It is an honor to be part of the community! I look forward to a deep read of the manuscript!

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